Even Six-Figure Salaries Don’t Attract Men to Care Work


Written by Suzanne Kahn

Adam Davidson’s recent New York Times Magazine article “The Best Nanny Money Can Buy” introduced readers to the “bizarre microeconomy” of New York’s highly paid nannies. The first nanny Davidson introduces earns $180,000 a year, plus a Christmas bonus and an apartment on Central Park West.

Davidson’s economy is indeed bizarre. As Bryce Covert pointed out in Forbes recently, the average New York nanny makes $37,076 a year. Childcare providers, home health care aids, and others are paid far too little for the incredibly important work they do. In the U.S., median pay for a childcare worker in 2010 was about $9 an hour.

Care work jobs have historically been paid poorly. Jobs associated with the work women traditionally did as wives and mothers have not been conceptualized as real work and have generally paid far less than traditionally male work. This was partially a result of the way laws were written. Until the 1970s, domestic workers were not included in the Fair Labor Standards Act that mandated a federal minimum wage, among other things.

When jobs pay well, however, they tend to attract men. Yet this does not seem to be the case among New York’s elite nannies. Interestingly, even in the microeconomy of highly paid nannies, they are all women. Davidson himself points this out, and a glance at the job listings on the website of the Pavilion Agency, the firm that connected Davidson with the high-end nanny he spoke to, confirms this. Why aren’t men attracted to these high-end jobs?

The answer seems to lie with the respect we give care workers. Most nannies not only earn very low pay for very long hours but also gain little social capital from their jobs. This lack of respect seems to extend even to highly paid nannies. It is unmistakable in the language used in the Pavillion Agency job listings. “This is the nanny who will be a ‘wife’ to a fortunate family,” reads one posting. Others describe the candidates as a “lovely lady” or “cuddly.” This sounds like the way the ad execs on Mad Men talk about their secretaries and not the way we talk about candidates for professional careers in the 21st century.

These are also notably gendered advertisements. Employers are clearly looking for women to fill these jobs because they imagine them to be a woman’s or a “wife’s” work. This sort of language very likely not only keeps men out of these jobs, but it also keeps pay very low for most care workers. As long the job of nanny is not respected, it will be paid less than jobs that are.

Davidson may have described a strange niche economy, but his rare, highly paid nannies actually tell us quite a bit about the problems most care workers face. If even six-figure salaries fail to attract men to the market, there’s a problem with care work that goes far beyond poor pay. It’s a job that society tells men, and many women, that it isn’t respectable to do. Until these jobs earn social capital as well as cash, care work will probably remain a sex-segregated, and therefore underappreciated, sector of the economy. Outside the upper echelons of Manhattan society, that means care work is likely to remain poorly paid.

This post was originally published by the Roosevelt Institute.


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Aging Boomers Will Be Dependent on Poor, Immigrant Women


Photo from T. Carrigan via flickr


Duane B.
.6 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Daphne H.
Daphne Hankonen6 years ago

It is true that, across the board, traditional "women's work" is still highly undervalued, underpaid, and lacking the respect it deserves. We are suffering from a "feminine energy crisis" in the world--women gain power, money, and respect primarily through embracing masculine behaviors. This is not so much as men vs. women as masculine vs. feminine qualities. Feminine qualities are not as valued as masculine qualities, although both are present (to varying degrees) in all people and both are vital for a functioning society.
I'm a nanny and know that my job is valued about as much as someone who asks "do you want fries with that?" but I find it rewarding and important work. I purposely don't work for wealthy families as I find they often under-parent and over-schedule their children. Despite the article, they often don't even pay as well as more average folk who manage to afford a nanny through sharing with another family, etc.
More men may also choose care work (especially with children) if society was more receptive to it. How many mothers would hire a male nanny? A few, but it's not everyone's idea of the perfect caregiver.

Pat W.
Pat W6 years ago

I feel sorry for those who are unable to care for infants or the elderly, or the in between ages.
being a care worker has to have it's rewards...

Jonathan Netherton

One thing I do know about women is that even the coldest one I met is better at nurturing and caring for others than I am. Something about a baby's cry just makes me want to punch a cactus!

I definitely think they should be paid more. I also think our society fetishizes machismo too much for men to consider this line of work, as well as having to add in the fact that nurturing doesn't seem to be a common instinct in men. I'm no sexist, but outside the egregious and inexcusable pay rates, women are more suited to taking care of their fellow human beings.

Gloria H.
Gloria H6 years ago

with my friend in hospice care, I have seen some amazing caring male nurses and health care guys. I suspect some are gay, but so was my friend..anyone getting into the field of end of life care deserves a free pass into heaven and a solid gold cadillac to tool around in as far as I am concerned.

Judy A.
Judy A6 years ago

Thank you.

Sandra L.
Sandra Lynn6 years ago

“This is the nanny who will be a ‘wife’ to a fortunate family,” reads one posting. Others describe the candidates as a “lovely lady” or “cuddly.”

This is exactly what anybody would want for their children. You wouldnt want a bank exec to watch your children. Described any other way, this person wouldnt get the job.

I have taken care of my 95 yr old father for 8 years, mostly without pay. One reason is I love him, the other is I would have to pay $20 an hour or more (thru an agency) for someone to watch him while I was away at work. How much would I need to earn before it was worth my while to find a job? Im stuck.

Home health care and daycare jobs will never pay as much as other career type jobs. If they did, what would be the point in working? Only the highest earners could afford to work.

KATHLEEN C6 years ago

When my daughter lived in Manhattan, I spent a lot of time visiting and therefore a lot of time with my grandchildrenn and their nanny. The nanny and I became great friends and through her I met many other nannies in the building and in the parks and at story time at Barnes and Noble. I would never have believed the quality of care and devotion from these caregivers if I had not experienced it myself. In fact, when observing children in the parks on week-ends with their parents, I was appalled to see them ignore their children and talk on their cells with their backs to them. While the parents were well groomed, the children appeared to have slept in their clothes and not had their hair combed since their nanny did it. These nannies are worth their weight in gold and it's a darned shame that many of them are underpaid and underappreciated for a job and a responsibility that most people wouldn't do for any amount of money.

Winn Adams
Winn A6 years ago


Kerin Worth
Kerin Worth6 years ago

thank you for the info.